Cognac: The French region just to the north of Bordeaux that gives its name to the citrussy, velvety spirit one might imagine old men sipping by the fire with a cigar. Not so anymore. While cognac has been around for centuries, lauded for its warming, spiced orange peel and fudge aromas and flavours, it’s making a comeback on the global cocktail scene, introducing a new generation to its charms.
A little softer and more approachable than whisky (some might say), it won’t be long before we see much more cognac on the international spirits scene drunk by itself in its own right. What about the area, though? If you love the idea of a boozy getaway but want somewhere a little more understated than the super slick machine that is Bordeaux, Cognac is ideal for a few days of luxury not far from home.
How to get there
Fly into Bordeaux, then either take the train, which takes just under two and a half hours, or for those not fussed with the faff, you can hire a car or splurge on a luxury chauffeur to get there directly in about one hour forty five from Bordeaux Airport.
Where to stay
Hotel Chais Monnet
Frequently cited as the best hotel in Cognac, Chais Monnet has an intriguing mix of historical and modern architecture, boasting a gourmet restaurant, brasserie, tea room and jazz bar. Ask for a personalised cognac tasting session with a gourmet lunch for an educational treat without having to leave the building. For those seeking wellness to balance the food and drink, there’s a fabulous spa, fitness room, jacuzzi, hammam and sauna. The hotel can also organise luxury driving experiences in supercars for your or day trips around the Charentes. For special occasions, ask to stay in their top, Jean Gabriel Monnet suite.
Where to eat
Located midway between the hubs of Jarnac and Cognac centre by stunning orchards overlooking the river Charente, you’ll find the only Michelin-starred restaurant of the region. Chef Thierry Verrat specialises in seasonal dishes with ingredients from their very own garden. It’s high-end, white tablecloths in style with excellent service and worth mentioning that vegans and vegetarians are very well catered for here too.
Address: 2 Place du Port, 16200 Bourg-Charente
Tel: 33 (0)5 45 81 30 54
A tad more relaxed than La Ribaudière, this excellent restaurant in the Hotel Yeuse boasts one of the best views of the river. Come here for food, cognac and music festivals and various menus, bistro style or à la carte. They also run exciting cognac tastings in their ‘Cognathèque’.
Address: 65 rue de Bellevue, 16100 Châteaubernard
Tel: 33 (0)5 45 36 82 60
What to taste
In terms of style, there’s diversity with cognac, but it’s relatively easy to get your head around. At the entry level, there’s VS (‘Very Special’), which must be aged in oak for a minimum of two years and is best in simple cocktails. The next step up is VSOP (‘Very Superior Old Pale’), which must be aged for a minimum of four years. Many of these VSOPS are great for sipping alone, but also work well in more complex cocktails. A delightful, simple apéritif is any VS or VSOP cognac with ginger ale. For an easy, fruity cocktail, try ‘La Meuf’: Two parts VSOP cognac to one part egg white, one part lime juice and one part peach liqueur, all poured over ice, then shake and strain.
– Bourgoin Fine Pale Cognac, £64.75 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange.
– Bache-Gabrielsen VSOP £34.95 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange.
After VSOP, you have the truly high-end cognacs. XO stands for ‘Extra Old’ and these must be aged for a minimum of ten years but are often substantially older than that. There are also vintage cognacs and all sorts of special bottlings that are meant to be sipped and savoured, showing off incredibly complex, moreish notes of leather, apricot, hazelnut, orange, chocolate and more.
Try these stunning spirits
– Delamain Pale and Dry XO, £80 for 70cl from Amazon.
– Château de Fontpinot XO Cognac, £105 for 70cl from Master of Malt.
– L’Essence de Courvoisier, £1910 for 70cl from Hedonism.
What else to do
Charter a boat and sip some cognac on the Charente – with our without a crew! happycharter.com
Have an exclusive, gourmet picnic in the vineyards of Cognac. winepaths.com
Take a tour of the region in a vintage car or try cookery courses and vineyard trips with Madame XO. xomadame.fr
Blend your own cognac at Bache-Gabrielsen. You choose the eaux-de-vies and follow the ageing process with your own, named micro barrel kept until its ready. bache-gabrielsen.com
Image credit at the very top of the article: Ursula1964/Bigstock.com
Helena Nicklin is an award-winning wine and spirits writer, broadcaster and judge for various international wine and spirits awards. Most recently, she has co-produced and co-presented the global TV series ‘The Three Drinkers do Scotch Whisky’ on Amazon Prime. Find her on Twitter @Thewinebird or on Instagram @Winebird.